The problem of succession in the Arab secular republics highlights their predicament in the transition to a post-revolutionary phase, for succession in regimes that fail to build strong institutions always risks triggering a systemic crisis. While the decision by some in favor of dynastic succession may be lacking in democracy, it is not entirely devoid of merit. Arguably, it is a choice for economic modernization, for an end to the politics of conflict, and for positive political change further down the road.
Years of Western-backed repressive authoritarianism nipped in the bud any potential growth of a liberal alternative to the incumbent Arab regimes, and turned any abrupt move to free elections into a dangerous exercise in Islamic democracy. A democracy that produces governments led by Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Muslim Brotherhood is inevitably bound to be anti-Western and opposed to an American-inspired “peace process” with Israel.
Syria has already sought to assure regime continuity through quasi-monarchic hereditary succession with the move from Hafez al-Assad to his son Bashar. There are indications that Egypt might follow suit, with Hosni Mubarak’s son, Gamal, taking over. Likewise, Libya’s Muammar Khaddafi may be succeeded by his son, Seif el Islam. As products of revolutionary military takeovers, these secular nationalist regimes failed to produce genuine popular legitimacy and have had to fall back on the dynastic succession practiced by the regimes they toppled.
The centrality of hereditary succession in the quest for peace and stability was shown by Hafez al-Assad when he agreed to unprecedented good will gestures aimed at drawing Ehud Barak’s Israeli government into a peace deal. An old and sick man who was to die a few months later, he acted with a sense of urgency to reach a deal that would relieve his inexperienced son of the burden of struggling for the recovery of the Golan Heights.